A late night note about Schitt’s Creek, Beyoncé and believing in joy

 “Mmm, that’s nice, I’ve never been asked that question. Joy brings me joy.” - Dr. Maya Angelou

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I’ve spent most of my life afraid of joy. As I write this, it’s one in the morning and I’m supposed to work at 7am, I’m laid over the edge of my bed squinting at my phone in the dark. I’m uncomfortable but not more uncomfortable than the nagging feeling I have that if I don’t get this out now I may not remember when I “have time”.

It is normal, though rarely discussed, this fear we have of joy. Mine, like many people’s I’m sure, was exacerbated by a childhood of very high highs and very low lows. Nothing good can last, they say. And it was always my firm belief that it was best to stay prepared for the joy to run out, at any second.

So many things we consume are tinged with this outlook. It occurred to me recently how many TV shows I watch on the edge of my seat waiting for things to go wrong. Waiting for couples I’ve waited seasons to see get together break up in the same episode because it would be boring to let them be happy. Waiting for an unexpected foundation issue to blow up the budget of a seemingly risk-free fixer upper. Waiting for the murderer to turn out to be the one guy I was kind of rooting for. Waiting for the proverbial other shoe. This anxiety is so embedded that sometimes I’m almost relieved when things do go wrong, so at least then it’s done and out in the open. As though grief is easier to bear.

There are a couple of very nice things that I will credit with helping to shake me out of my fear. And I will recommend them to you, because perhaps they will change your life too, and if they don’t, fine. They will still be very nice things.

The first, and arguably most pivotal for me, is a little TV show called Schitt’s Creek. If you don’t watch it, I will only say that you should. I won’t get into a long explanation of plot or premise, but simply I will say this, it has changed my blood pressure to watch characters I have come to love find happiness. It has changed my life to believe that this in itself is rewarding. That needless drama and heartbreak isn’t necessary to poignant and crucial storytelling. That joy is its own plot, and that the pursuit of it is a privilege to witness. This show, for all of its hilarious absurdity, has a heart unlike anything I’ve seen before or since. It dares to imagine relationships of all kinds, romantic, platonic, familial and community, that grow through sheer force of love and acceptance. And not until things go wrong... but through things going wrong, and still when things turn out okay, or even when they don’t. The idea that joy might withstand, that love might last, that community can hold— what a gift.

And then, second, (but only 2nd in this list and literally nowhere else), there’s Beyoncé. What can I say about Homecoming that hasn’t essentially been said in a meaningful gif of a black woman in the front row graciously receiving her life from our queen? There aren’t many words to describe the gratitude I feel for this film, for this moment, for this legend. There is a complete and fierce joy that she brings, not just in her performance but in her music. That even heartache becomes a soul shaking testimony to the exhilarating thrill of being alive. That there is possible a love so extraordinary you could lose and find yourself within it. And that she’s generous enough to share that, again and again, standing on stage with her perfect ass just beaming. So that we all might feel accepted, might feel she’s speaking to us, might feel worthy of something so unbelievably beautiful even though we tired and crusty and half-dead. What it means to feel and to know thatBeyoncé loves us this much. Doesn’t that alone make us worthy of everything?

It’s indulgent to pretend the only work to overcoming a lifelong fear of joy is binging Dan Levy and Beyoncé. I wish it were that simple. We all know, whether we admit it or not, that nothing can heal in us the things we won’t face. And it is hardly cute or fun to stare down an aversion to happiness. I don’t enjoy typing this, exposing the embittered pessimism I for so long clung to believing it made me interesting and broody and artistic. I’ve had a lot of help in admitting that it could be okay to believe things might be okay.

It’s still new to me, and surprisingly uncomfortable to lean into enjoying happiness. Not just my own either, but other peoples as well. Genuinely enjoying the joy of other people, can you imagine. Makes me realize how much we’re trained to expect the worst and to root against each other. And to what end? So that when and if we are ever lucky enough to finally get all the things we’ve hoped and dreamed of we can celebrate alone?

It’s lonely at the top, they say. But does it have to be? If we could all come around on the idea that maybe joy is nice? That there is enough to go around and that maybe it could be all right for things to work out a little. To go wrong and come back around. To break and get fixed to be better than new. Could we maybe then get on the same team? Create a community of encouraging and accepting and applauding each other? Is there not a way to embrace the idea that joy could sustain us? That maybe we don’t actually need carnage and mayhem to feel sated and validated?

I admit it’s a terrifying prospect. Geeking out on happiness means there’s something to lose. It’s true that reveling in sorrow offers a sort of twisted abundance where you’re never worried about a lack because the lack is everywhere. But if you can, sit with what it feels like observing even a flash of joy in someone’s day. The smile on someone’s face when they see something that truly makes them laugh. The way it feels to really feel understood by another person, to feel that they see who you are, even just a little, and they like it. What it’s like when someone makes a place for you. What it’s like to know that Beyoncé Knowles Carter gave up MOST SOLID FOODS for you.

Even if the joy is fleeting... do yourself a favor. Chase it.

the undoing

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I am trying to learn how to untoughen. Is that a word? People say things like, learning to be vulnerable, but that's not what I'm doing. Not really. I've been vulnerable my whole life. I'm the youngest in my family, I'm shy around new people, I'm bad at crowds, and I can't run very fast or very far. 

But I've always been tough. Strong-willed. Opinionated and loud-- outspoken. Brash. I've slammed a lot of doors. And it earned me a reputation as a person who you can't break. Tough, strong-- the kinds of words that almost sound like compliments. And in the last few months I've learned that this reputation has followed me. Through school, through college, from Seattle to New Haven to LA. And I think it's time I put an end to it. 

I am learning to untoughen. To be breakable. 

Or, I guess, more accurately, I'm trying to let people in on the secret that I've been breakable this whole time.

If you're one of us people who for whatever reason had to grow up sooner than is ideal, you know a lot about trying to hold it together. You know about smiling through it, you know about not crying too much or in public. You know about shaking it off so you can deal with it later. You know what the inside of being strong feels like. For those of you who didn't have to grow up too soon, it feels a lot like being left all alone, or being sent to bed without dinner. It feels like less than what you'd like. It feels like something you learn to survive because not surviving it isn't an option.

This week I asked my mother to have my father sign a DNR and complete a will. Two days ago he did. Last week I planned out what I will do when my father dies. Last month my dad had his leg amputated. Last summer I stopped speaking to my father. Last winter he called to tell me he has diabetes, and I explained to him what that means. A month before that call, I was told my dad had been poisoned. Last summer I spoke to him for the last time. Two years ago, the last time I saw him, my dad couldn't walk on his own. Six years ago, my dad had his third stroke. Ten years ago my dad was homeless and legally blind. Seventeen years ago, my dad nearly paralyzed himself, damaging his spine irreversibly in a drunken fall. Today, my dad has one leg, an open and infected wound that isn't healing well, he has diabetes, is bed ridden, has had three strokes, is legally blind, has nerve damage in his spine, is virtually homeless and cannot move much or feed himself on his own. It's not clear if he will make it out of the hospital. And suffice it to say, it may be better for him if he doesn’t.

I am not as strong as I need to be. 

Last year I was congratulated a lot on making the "strong/brave/tough" choice not to speak to my father anymore. A choice I am standing by, even though I know in my heart that the window of time I have to change my mind is dwindling. People congratulate you a lot when you do something they can't even fathom. But people who can fathom it know better than to congratulate you. Because they, like you, know that it doesn't feel like an accomplishment. 

On the phone with my family these last few weeks, talking about hypothetical (and inevitable) funerals, I do not feel like I deserve congratulations. I feel sick. I feel strongly like something is wrong with me. I feel angry when I'm assured he may still be okay, because I no longer understand what the definition of "okay" is. I feel nothing so much of the time it frightens me. I do not want to be congratulated on that. I do not want assurance that I will make it through this, whether or not that is true. I want people to stop telling me how strong I am, for someone to recognize that I am going crazy trying to be anywhere close to strong enough. I do not believe my dad will get better. And I do not think I am any stronger than he is. 

So I have no choice now, it feels like, but to let people know. Hi, yes. I am very easy to break at this point. There is not a whole lot of tough left. There is not a whole lot of me left, whoever you thought that was. I am doing everything I can to scrape together things that feel like whatever I used to be... is it working? Do you believe there is still a person here, it is hard for me to be certain. Do you recognize me anymore? Tell me, what am I like? 

I cry, but sometimes I can't. I write, but sometimes I can't. I have made sure he knows that I love him, though I hardly understand what that means now. And people continue to tell me that I am strong. And I hate them for it. I am breaking, I keep trying to say. You didn't think I could, not me, I'm tough-- but not really. Let me promise you, this is breaking me. 

And at the same time, I am terrified of people who tell me to pause. To give myself time to grieve. I do not know what that would look like either. When I look at this life my dad and I have had, it is hard to think of a time that I wasn't grieving. And in that time I graduated high school, went to college, wrote some plays, moved to LA, have had several jobs, have made friends, lost friends, dated people and stopped dating them, moved apartments, had a mohawk, been bald and not bald, blonde and not blonde, stupid, drunk, sober and weird. And the whole time I was grieving. The whole time in the background, I knew that slowly, so excruciatingly slowly, through every step we took further down this rabbit hole, my father was dying. And I have been breakable the whole time. I've been breaking the whole time. 

Never once have I felt I was as strong as I needed to be.

And here, at this point, I am beginning to think there is no such thing. I am starting to think the trick isn't being strong enough to get through it. It isn't about not breaking. How laughably impossible. And it isn't about pausing. It isn't about taking time to grieve. There isn't enough time in the world.

It's only about breaking. Believing that breaking is just part of being alive. Not for a little while, not just while you're taking time for it, but for your whole life. The whole thing of living is just breaking and breaking again, and breaking some more. And still keeping going. Going and breaking, breaking and going. Because that's everything there is. Anyone who tells you otherwise has no idea. They have absolutely no idea, but be kind to them. Because one day they may feel they aren't as strong as they need to be. And they will need you there to tell them that it's okay. They will need you to say, you aren't strong enough for this because it is impossible to be strong enough for this. Go ahead and fall apart. Fall all the way apart and stay broken as long as you'd like. Being strong is a fucking myth.

I am going to lose my dad. I am losing him. Just like I’ve lost him so many times before, and nothing like that at all. I will not be strong enough, no matter how many dress rehearsals we’ve had for this. No matter how long I’ve known that of course this was where we’d end up. There is no solution, no quick-fix, no band-aid. There is just this, happening.

Life, in all of its insanity, will not wait for you to be strong enough to keep going. Nature doesn’t give a shit about you and your journey. But you will keep going. Not because you’re strong, not because you’re tough, but because the thing that’s breaking you isn’t the pain. It’s all the beauty, the love, the impossible joy that’s lost. And you’d be a fool to miss it the next time it comes around, even if it breaks you all over again.

  

for my dad.

I do love you. Forever. 

And I love you more. And I said it first. 

 

stop asking if i have a boyfriend

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I don't date a lot. Partially because while I love men and find them charming and delightful, I also find them to be garbage. Partially because I don't like people in general very much a lot of the time. And partially because having a boyfriend, while a perfectly lovely thing, is a lot of work and requires time and energy, and is not something I want to do just for shits to bide my time.

But in the last few weeks I've gotten a lot of questions, predominantly from other women, about why it is that I am single and more importantly how it is possible that I could ever be happy in this condition. One such conversation went like this:

"Do you have a boyfriend?"

"No."

"So you don't ever want to get married?"

Another such conversation went like this:

"Do you have a boyfriend?"

"No."

"Do people ask you out?"

"Yeah."

"And you say no to them??"

"If I'm not interested, yes."

"But do you say no to hot guys?"

"If I'm not interested."

"Do you tell them you have a boyfriend?"

"No. That'd be a lie."

"Wait so then what do you tell them?"

"I say no. I'm not interested."

"You just say, no? Even to hot guys??"

A third conversation:

"Do you have a boyfriend?"

"No."

"Do you want a boyfriend?"

"Why? Just to have one? No."

"Do guys like you more because you don't want a boyfriend?"

"I don't know."

"I bet guys like you even more."

"I don't know. It doesn't really matter."

"I wish I was like that. Guys must really like you."

A fourth:

"Do you have a boyfriend?"

"No."

"So what do you do? Like... on weekends and stuff?"

And finally:

"Do you have a boyfriend yet?"

"Nope."

"I want you to get a boyfriend."

"Why?"

"I want to see you with a boyfriend. I want to experience what that's like."

"It'll be the same."

"But like, then we could talk about him."

Aside from being completely exhausting, this has all left me wondering why it is that we, as women, are so obsessed with the idea of having a boyfriend. So much so that we don't know what else to talk to each other about. So much so that we don't understand what else we might do for fun if we're not in a relationship. So much so that if we're not dating it might mean we will never find true love and live "the dream" of becoming A Wife. So much so that the idea of saying no to a date with a hot guy is unthinkable. So much so that the only reason not to want a boyfriend is to attract a boyfriend through some sort of reverse psychology. 

Why? In my opinion, the worst part of not having a boyfriend is having to explain to people why and how I'm fine not having one.

And in large part, these same women tell horror stories about the guys they're dating. Today, for example, a woman told me all about how it isn't actually fun spending time with her boyfriend, but it's nice to have the option, and it's funny that the less she wants to see him, the more he wants to see her. "Does that mean I don't like him?" she wanted to know. 

"I can't tell you whether or not you like him," I said, confused. "You're kind of the only person who would know that... But ideally, I think you want to be dating someone you like seeing."

"I like hanging out with him," she said quickly. "I mean, I like him, it's just like, once I'm actually with him it's like, ugh."

"Right," I said. "Cool."

The number of times I talk to women, friends and acquaintances alike, about the guys they're dating and ask what they like about them only to find they can't give me an answer is staggering. Several times I've gotten the answer, "what else would I do?" or "who else is there?" as though it's required to have a seat warmer until the One True Dick arrives. Many times the answer is sadly just, "he's nice to me," or sadder still "he likes me." It is very wonderful to be with someone who likes you and who is nice to you. But these should not be his only qualities, and they should not be your favorite things about him, because every human person deserves more than that. (except for nazis, but that is another matter for another time.)

 "He wants to marry me, he says so all the time," said the woman today.

"Cool. Do you want to marry him?"

"He's like, obsessed about it now that I like, kind of don't care about spending time with him. Every time I'm like, I'd rather see my friends, he's like 'I can't wait to marry you.'" 

"Huh."

"But like, I would rather hang out with my friends."

"That's fine."

"But what does that mean, though?"

Why do we make this the priority in our lives? More important than following our own passions, more important than spending time with friends. Bigger than what we want or what we like is what the boyfriend might want or like. Will he like me if I do this? Will he not like me if I do that? And if we're so unfortunate, as I am, not to have a boyfriend, well. Then we must think about how we can best become a girl who boys will want. And we must think about what the future-not-yet-existing-but-still-more-important-than-me boyfriend might want or like. 

I know we raise women on fairytales that tell them finding a prince leads to happily ever after. I know we market to women as though their biggest goal should be getting laid. I know society suggests in a variety of ways that a beautiful woman is the prize a man gets if he is successful-- and so our job is to grow up and be a worthwhile prize. And yet, everytime I encounter a woman who views herself this way, it makes me deeply sad. There a lot of things I want for myself and the other women in my life. Prizedom has never been one of them. 

And while this way of thinking may seem antiquated, think of how many memes you see directed at women about finding men. Think about how many "inspirational quote" Instagram pages are really just littered with relationship advice. How many articles for women are about how to get him, how to fuck him, how to know if he's the one, how to know if he's cheating, how to know if he's thinking about marriage. There are now services for women to send themselves gifts every month just because they're single. Which... fine? I guess? But also... ???

And I want to be clear-- It's not that I don't believe in relationships.

I have a very love-hate thing going on with humans. I hate humans, largely, for the horrible ways they treat each other, the earth, animals, and themselves. I find it sad and alarming, and I say "People are trash" more times in a single day than I say just about any other sentence. But I also think the whole point of being alive is relationships with other people. Connecting with people and understanding them and sharing ideas and feelings and life things and helping each other to figure it out. This is my absolute favorite thing in the world, and it is why I write and it is why I make plays and it is why I love art. I just don't think it has to mean boyfriends. Friendships are relationships, families have relationships, colleagues are relationships. Every person in my life is another connection that needs my attention. In fact, even though I'm *GASP* single, the majority of the energy in my life goes into my relationships with the people around me whom I love. I work hard to make every person I have a relationship with know just how much I care about them. And I haven't perfected it. I'm not even close. But it is what I try to do, and it is what I care most about doing.

All relationships take work. 

Having a boyfriend is not a hobby.

Not to mention the fact that I am a full person on my own. I do my own things, make my own things, want my own time, have my own friends. I love other people and I love being alone. I like naked dance parties and sleeping in the middle of the bed, and watching a shitty movie by myself and crying over Golden Girls re-runs when no one is home. I do not need a boyfriend to complete who I am, or what I'm about. None of my relationships are about filling a void. They're about being around people I love. Supporting each other and celebrating each other and enjoying the wholeness of who the other person is. No one is in my life for lack of something else to do. I choose people because I love them, because only they can bring exactly who they are and exactly who they are is what I want. 

I am not at a loss for things to do. Not at a loss for who I am or what I like because I don't have a boyfriend to tell me what would make me most fuckable.

Ladies, it is beyond okay to be on your own. It doesn't mean something is wrong with you. It doesn't mean you're doing it wrong. The question isn't what will make him like you. The question is, do you like you?